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Cuba says will try Czechs as pro-U.S. "agents"

Cuba says will try Czechs as pro-U.S. "agents"

An ex-Czech finance minister and former student leader, held in Cuba for meeting anti-Castro dissidents, will be tried for "counter-revolutionary" plotting on behalf of the United States, Havana said on Tuesday.

"Those who rudely violate our laws and conspire against the Revolution have no right to impunity, whatever their position and rank," said a government statement carried by state media.

The ex-minister and now parliamentary deputy Ivan Pilip, and the former student leader, Jan Bubenik, were arrested at the end of last week in the central province of Ciego de Avila, drawing a protest from Prague and further souring already hostile ties between the one-time Socialist-bloc allies.

"The two agents at the service of the United States ... will be placed at the disposition of the tribunals, who will determine the relevant measures," Havana's statement added.

Cuba had been expected to expel the pair, as it did in other recent cases of foreigners who met local activists opposed to President Fidel Castro's communist government.

The statement said Bubenik and Pilip, who arrived in Cuba on Jan. 8, had violated their immigration status as tourists, by following instructions of U.S.-based anti-Castro groups to "maintain subversive contacts with members of little counter-revolutionary groups" in Ciego de Avila.

"Their visit had nothing to do with tourism, and the real aims were to contact counter-revolutionary elements, give them instructions and hand them resources," it added.

According to a dissident local rights' group, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, the Czechs met the activists Antonio Femenias and Roberto Valdivia.

CUBANS ALSO BRIEFLY DETAINED

Femenias, a dissident journalist who works unauthorized outside Cuba's state-controlled media with the Patria (Fatherland) agency, and Valdivia, of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, were also called in for questioning.

Rights' commission head, Elizardo Sanchez, said both denied receiving money or materials from the Czechs. "They committed no crime in holding this meeting," Sanchez said.

Prague has protested the men's arrest, but Havana dismissed that as "hysterical cries which are worth nothing" from an "arrogant" government which is a "true lackey of imperialism."

Socialist-era Cuban-Czech friendship fell away after communism's demise in Eastern Europe a decade ago, and plunged further in 2000 when the Czechs co-sponsored a joint resolution at a U.N. forum alleging Cuban human rights violations.

About 100,000 Cubans rallied at the time outside the Czech Embassy in Havana in a state-organized protest of the motion, which was passed at the U.N. Human Rights' Commission. Havana directed then particular wrath at Czech President Vaclav Havel, himself a former anti-communist dissident.

Tuesday's statement said the Czech pair in Cuba appeared to be "emissaries" of the U.S.-based Freedom House organization, which it described as "an institution created by the U.S. government to supply funds to anti-patriots who conspire against the Revolution."

Also Tuesday, a group of 73 Cuban dissidents - including many of the island's best-known activists like Sanchez, Gustavo Arcos, Hector Palacios, Raul Rivero and Oswaldo Paya - issued a statement calling for an end to what they described as a more than year-long "wave of repression" against them.

The statement said that in 2000 there were "more than a thousand acts of political repression against peaceful dissidents", with at least 18 of those still in prison "as part of the hundreds of politically-motivated prisoners languishing in jails from years ago."

In December alone, 270 "non-violent opposition members" were detained, mostly for brief periods, it added.

"We demand the freedom of political prisoners, and an end to harassment, biased trails, unjust and disproportionate convictions, arbitrary detentions, prohibition of free access to public trials, as well as all acts that transgress the essential rights of the human being," the dissidents said.

Cuba denies it holds political prisoners, and says all dissidents are serving U.S. "imperialist" interests.


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